Reading Challenge Update

Hello lovely readers!

Now that we are over a third of the way through the year (where did THAT go) I thought I’d review the two reading challenges that I’m taking part in to check my progress and also to look at my Netgalley account to see what percentage my feedback ratio is.

Incidentally, does anyone else get a bit obsessed by their reading stats or is it just me? I digresss…

Ok, so first up I had a look at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This challenge compromises 24 categories, so 2 books a month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

23/24 books identified (with an idea for the remaining novel).
9 books completed.
3 further books started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – winning!

I then looked at the Popsugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories so just under 4 books per month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

35/40 books identified. Struggling to think of a book with career advice and a book from a non-human perspective. Can anyone help?
16 books completed.
1 further book started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – on track.

Finally I had a look at my Netgalley account. Netgalley recommend that you have a feedback ratio of 80% or above. I have 11 books which have already been published that I haven’t reviewed – basically that I’m behind on. I have a further 5 books that are due to be published from June onwards that I’m not worrying about yet but that drags my overall feedback ratio to 54% which is quite frankly rubbish.

Verdict – must try harder. 

So overall I think I’m doing ok, I’ll be concentrating on getting my Netgalley score up which will also mean reigning myself in when requesting new titles *sad face*. On a positive note I’m not going to worry about the reading challenges because I seem to be doing quite well in those *happy face*.

How are you getting on with your reading challenges, Netgalley scores or TBR lists? Do you have any suggestions for the two Popsugar categories that I’m struggling with?

Lucinda xxx

 

Review – How to be Happy by David Burton

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Don’t be fooled by the title – this is not a ‘How To…’ guide, nor is it the story of someone who figured out the secret to living a fabulous, meaningful life. It’s the story of a young man coming to terms with his own insecurities, sexual confusion, depression and general angst that I’m sure anyone thinking back to their teenage years can relate to on some level. The story Burton tells is interesting, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, with periods of pretty severe depression and suicidal thoughts thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the bit about it being a memoir of sex is also misleading – rarely have I read an autobiography where the author is so truthful about how they found pulling someone completely, painfully difficult.

A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of the way that some of my friends seem to be constantly searching for some external thing that will make them happy – whether that’s a hobby, a partner, a successful career etc. when really what they’re doing is projecting their own insecurities. At some points I just wanted to hug David Burton and tell him that it was ok to be sad and confused, and that it would get better. Luckily, Burton comes to this conclusion on his own and How to be Happy has plenty of great examples of how building a support network is soooooo important for anyone who is suffering from depression/anxiety/low self esteem.

Burton is also very honest about his experiences and initial negativity towards therapy. I think it’s incredibly important to discuss this issue because I know that a lot of people still feel that they’re admitting defeat by seeking professional help for their problems. Happily, Burton finds a therapist that he’s comfortable with and the book shows how perseverance with counselling can have life changing results – but only if you’re prepared to really work at it.

The other thing that I really liked about this book was the way that Burton experienced confusion about his sexuality (to the point where he came out as gay to his parents) but then ended up having to rethink this. I’ve never seen this mentioned in a book before and it was really refreshing to see someone being so open about their changing feelings. This is clearly a very emotive topic and I applaud Burton for his honesty in saying ‘this is what happened to me and how I felt at the time’. I guess some people will see it as fuel for the ‘you’re too young to know how you feel…this is just a phase’ argument but I saw it as an example of how nuanced sexuality and sexual attraction can be and how completely confusing and difficult to understand it often is.

I did, however, find How to be Happy a little tedious in places. As a memoir of a fairly ordinary (albeit depressed) teenager/young adult there aren’t any explosions, zombies or natural disasters and the book is set in Australia, not in a post apocalyptic future.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and applaud Burton’s honesty in portraying a very difficult period of his life. I think that anyone suffering from depression could benefit from reading it as it is ultimately an uplifting tale of triumph over
personal demons.

Rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #15 Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  

Review: The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I hate giving bad reviews when people are obviously trying hard to write a good book. If there’s obvious gramatical errors, or you can tell that parts have been rushed, or lazy stereotyping, or an obvious lack of research, or glaring continuity problems, or no plot then yeah, I’ll call you out on it. But his book is something worse. There’s nothing that was bad about the story or the writing style, or the editing per se. It’s the characters that I found immensely annoying – and as this is a non-fiction account about someone’s world travels with their husband, there’s not a lot you can do about that.

*Deep breath – tries to remain constructive*

If I were to describe this book in one sentence, it would be ‘one miserable woman’s trek around the world’. There are problems with everything. Her marriage seems to fall apart, then magically get better. At no point does she seem to be excited, despite the whole worldwide trip being her idea and nothing really bad happening. This gets a bit tedious after a while. 

I hate to say it, but I really struggled to sympathise with the author, Kim Dinan. She seemed to find the negative in every situation and even criticised others for being too spoilt and self centered (to be fair, she does seem to meet some horrendous tourists) without seeming to recognise that she had also acted pretty ungratefully. I thought it was a bit rich to be acting like a worldly wise hippy who got annoyed with part time travellers when most of the book is about how much she isn’t enjoying herself. At one point she discusses a situation with a friend where a fellow tourist hands out school supplies and takes pictures with local kids – which she criticises him for. Her friend sees it as a man unafraid to get involved, whereas Kim sees it as pushy and self serving. I would guess that the situation was probably a mix of all these things, but again Kim seemed unable to see the positive side for herself. It was this pervasively negative, glass half full approach that really ruined the book for me.  

I also found the title of the book quite misleading. The actual yellow envelope (an envelope of money her friends gave her to donate to others) itself doesn’t make an appearance until nearly half way through the story, and the whole novel seems to be a more introspective account of Kim’s thoughts and feelings about her life and her relationship. I failed to connect with Kim on an emotional level (I didn’t understand her relationship problems AT ALL) so I wasn’t really interested – I really wanted to hear more about the amazing places and cultures that she was experiencing. I simply couldn’t understand why someone would convince their husband to sell everything (house, car, pretty much all of their possessions), quit their job and embark on a worldwide trip (with no plans to ever return home) if they were unhappy in that relationship – especially as her husband wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and she had to spend months trying to get him to agree to it.  

The yellow envelope money is just such an amazing gift but Kim and her husband seem to massively overthink the scheme and don’t really engage with the idea. They do give money away, but they seem to struggle to do so and don’t seem to get much pleasure from it. I thought this was such a shame as the money could obviously make a massive difference to the lives of so many people (many of whom were living in abject poverty) but again there was a negative overtone to the process which turned what could have been such a positive into a negative experience. I also got quite annoyed at a situation where a monastry asked specifically for regular donations not one off gifts – which the couple completely ignored and gave a one off donation. There didn’t seem to be any kind of consideration to setting up small regular payments (even for a defined time period). Having worked as a charity fundraiser myself I know how important regular donations are (imagine trying to budget if you randomly got paid differing amounts every month) and it was this complete lack of awareness that really got to me.

I didn’t like the way that Kim and her husband Brian failed to really engage with the locals. They seemed to keep themselves to themselves and didn’t try to understand what life was like for any of the people that they met. Kim seemed to be so afraid of making a mistake that it really held her back, which for me was understandable, but a real shame. Because the couple seemed to just pass through destinations I failed to get any sense of place from Kim’s writing which to me is the whole point of a book about travel.

Some positives – the writing is well structured and flows easily. Some of the places described (albeit briefly) sound incredible and there are some funny moments. There’s also a happy ending which (I think) shows how far Kim and Brian come as a couple.

However – I just REALLY didn’t enjoy this novel.

Perhaps if I had been more interested in Kim as a person and I could engage with her emotionally then I might have enjoyed the book more. If you’re that type of reader, you may enjoy this more than I did – as I said, there’s nothing wrong with the writing itself, its the content matter that simply wasn’t for me.

Sorry Kim.

Overall rating: 3/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #8 Read a Travel Memoir.

Review: Toast by Nigel Slater

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I’ve always disliked Nigel Slater. I’m not sure exactly why but I thought he was a bit, well, patronising. I think it’s partly the way he speaks and partly his terrible TV show. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Slater presents “Simple Suppers”, a televisual concept so pretentious that when I first saw it I thought it was satire. Imagine the most middle class show kitchen ever. All the flour is decanted into mason jars, the butter is wrapped in brown paper and string, everything is painted in Farrow and Ball’s Elephants Breath. In between VT of Slater making balsamic reductions and char grilling asparagus are graphics of a little handwritten notebook with cute drawings of leaves and things with fake post it notes saying “don’t forget to cook a bit extra for tomorrow’s supper – even better the next day!” There’s something about this that really grates on me. No one lives like that. It’s all so fake but he presents with such seriousness – then you realise all he’s done is made an omelette with a few extra herbs that you could knock up in your sleep. Blaargh.

So you could say I had pretty low expectations of Toast – Slaters memoirs of his childhood to the age of 18. But boy, was I wrong.

Unlike other life stories, Toast is written in very short chapters which each centre around a memory of a specific item of food. I know that Slater is a food writer for the Observer so when I began reading this I did wonder if he’d just recycled his newspaper columns. Was I being ripped off?

All I can say is – I very much doubt that the content of Toast would be printed in a national newspaper. I couldn’t believe how candid Slater was. He was so honest about his feelings towards his own family, his early sexual encounters, his loneliness and struggle to make his father proud. He had almost nothing nice to say about his stepmother and didn’t seem to care that (presumably) members of his family would read it it and quite probably be upset.

To say I was shocked by this novel was an understatement. Not only to find out that Slater is from Wolverhampton (I seem to be reading a lot by people from Wolves, but he’s from the posh bit so I can’t relate as much) but to discover that he’s actually really rather sweet and comes across as witty, geeky and utterly oppressed by his family (he must be a therapists dream, there’s literally years worth of issues to work through). I couldn’t believe it – I actually found myself liking Nigel Slater. Weird.

Throughout the book there’s more than a hint of Slater’s bisexual/gay proclivities although he never confirms his sexuality. However, this seems almost irrelevant as its clear that Slater has one great love – food. This book is a love letter to all the cooking he had consumed throughout his formative years and is nowhere near as fancy as you might expect from someone who I always thought was a bit, well, up his own arse. Although towards the end Slater starts to discover decent restaurant food, throughout his childhood he devours his way through the whole repertoire of Marguerite Pattern 70’s style cooking and devotes as much love to a humble slice of toast as to home made lemon meringue pie. I have to add here that I also grew up on Marguerite Pattern’s Perfect Cooking and the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook (written by Bake Off’s finest Mary Berry, no less) and found myself reminiscing right along with him. I inherited Perfect Cooking from my partners mother and still maintain that it’s the best book to use for basic home cooking, although if you try out any of the variations of the blueprint recipes then you’re heading into uncharted territory.

Anyway.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s compelling reading and by linking his memories to specific types of food Slater creates an immediate bond between reader and author – I guess food is a great leveller. I love a bit of nostalgia and Slater’s memories of certain chocolate bars (Cadbury’s Aztec anyone?), dinner party food (I have vivid memories of my mother’s coq au vin and dauphinoise potatoes) and booze (when was the last time anyone had a babycham?) were really evocative of my childhood, despite it taking place almost two decades after his. The short chapters allow Slater to skip all the boring and-then-I-went-to-school-where-nothing-happened bits and just tell anecdote after anecdote, which makes the whole thing far more interesting.

Altogether I thought that Toast was a really interesting read and despite some desperately sad parts a lovely trip down memory lane. I have a new found respect for Nigel Slater – who’d have thought it?

Rating: 8/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #19 Read a book about food and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #10 Read a book that’s set within 100 miles of your location.

Review: Nasty Women – A Collection of Essays and Accounts on What it is to be a Woman in the 21st Century

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Funny, poignant, interesting, intriguing and challenging – there is something for everyone in this collection of essays by women about their lives in the 21st Century. The book covers a range of topics from the female perspective, including intersectional feminism, disabled access and consent amongst many others. Written from first hand experience, the voices are authentic and honest and provide a personal insight into issues which often go unchallenged within mainstream feminist narrative.

Because I hadn’t even considered some of the topics within Nasty Women I did find that a couple of the essays made me a little uncomfortable – which I think can only be a good thing. I know I’ve definitely been at best apathetic to certain problems which I’m now much more aware of. I loved the way that the book made me realise these things without being preachy or judgemental.

My personal favourite essay was about one girl’s love for Courtney Love. I really identified with what she was saying as I grew up in that post grunge Britpop and nu metal music scene. I also have mixed feelings about Courtney Love and I thought that the author really explored the good and bad whilst reminding the reader that Courtney is a woman who has been vilified by the press, was left widowed at a young age with a young child and is an addict with mental health issues.

Throughout the book there is some really excellent writing which is obviously completely authentic. It’s unusual to get a flavour of feminism through a particular lens from the people who are experiencing it all together in one book. It’s a great mix of people and experiences although I did think it was lacking something from the business community. It was a shame that no one talked about the gender pay gap, women at work, female leaders etc. There must be feminist business leaders/economists/HR people out there who have something to say about these issues.

I thought this book was a really good read with plenty of food for thought. It was quick to get through, covered a variety of topics and the first person narrative made it really interesting. I thought it was a good starting point for lots of issues that really need more discussion. A great book for International Woman’s Day!

Rating: 7/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #15 Read a book with a subtitle and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #21 Read a book published by a micropress.

Note on the publisher: this book has been published by 404ink, a new, alternative, UK based independent publisher. They can be found here. Check them out!

Review: Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

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Photo courtesy of bookdepository.com

In the good old days of my (now defunct) other blog,  I used to talk a lot about running. Or more specifically, shuffling round  the park at walking speed trying not to die for half an hour. I really wanted to be an effortless runner and I was more than dismayed to find that even the people who are gliding through their 5k “warm up” are actually working really hard. It appears that with running, practice doesn’t make it easier, you just learn to make it look easier. Consequently, I gave up.

Reading Running Like a Girl made me pick up my trainers and head to my local park the day after I finished it – I found it that inspiring. Part running guide, part memoir, Alexandra Heminsley has done the impossible and made me shift my fat arse off the sofa and into motion.

The book itself is written in a really personable style – Hemmo (in my head we are now friends, and this is what her mates call her) is the first to admit that she’s not a gym bunny and didn’t have a clue how to even get started with jogging. Her writing is warm, funny and very honest – her chapter on being intimidated by unhelpful salespeople when buying running shoes made me laugh out loud.

If you are thinking of starting running and don’t know what you’re doing, the advice that Hemmo gives is absolutely brilliant. I’ve discovered so many things about the way I run that are wrong which I’ve since corrected. It was so reassuring that it’s ok to have forgotten how to run and to be told what position your feet should be in, what to do with your arms etc. It was really interesting to see that it’s not just me who was really intimidated about running by themselves and to hear about the mental challenges to running long distances. There’s also a great guide to kit buying, including fantastic advice about supports bras and buying trainers that you don’t hate. If all of that sounds a bit boring to you, rest assured that Hemmo manages to weave her little nuggets of wisdom in to the main narrative so the book never becomes dry or boring.

This is a great, inspirational book for runners, non-runners and wannabes alike.

Rating: 8/10

I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #1 Read a Book About Sports.

Are You a Librarian? Stop Everything and Read This

Hello lovelies,

I need help! I’m doing a reading challenge with Popsugar and one of the categories is “read a book recommended by a librarian”. Quite frankly, the thought of walking into my main library and saying “hi, recommend a book to me!” is quite frankly terrifying (also I can’t work out how to say this sentence without it sounding incredibly threatening). So, if any of you are librarians could you please recommend something for me to read?

I’m a total magpie when it comes to books so I’ll be happy with a recommendation from any genre.

Thank you in advance!

(Also, I’m struggling to complete two of the Read Harder categories: read a book set in central or south America by a central or south American author and Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. Any ideas would be much appreciated!)

Much love,

Lucinda x